*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.
Richard: I can’t help but notice an interesting trend during this current wave of news within the 2017-18 version of silly season. There have been a number of drivers who might normally be considered as regional racers that are declaring themselves ready for the national tours. Both the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series seemingly have gained several drivers and teams that I would consider a bit of a surprise to race nationally.
Granted, I understand that some of these declarations may be somewhat like those of juniors in high school who commit to a certain college to play football or basketball. Those “commitments” are not exactly written in stone and thus may change at any time. However, it does seem to me that there has been an unusually high number of those who say they will be hitting the road in 2018.
I’m wondering if the national tours stepping up and offering a bit more money to the teams that follow their series has made a difference. A team that otherwise might not have had the funding to pull off such a feat may now consider it feasible with the added payouts.
Perhaps the good economic times we are experiencing may have made additional funding available as some companies may have more money to spend on sponsorships. Or, team owners may be experiencing good times with the businesses that got them to the point at which they could own a Dirt Late Model team.
And more, many Late Model drivers consider it a dream of theirs to run a national tour and they may have come to the decision to try it now with a good economy in place and incentive money available.
It will be interesting to see how many of these cars stick with the tour throughout the season.
Michael: I think you hit the nail on the head where many of these are more like college commitments. But in this case, drivers/teams can give it a try and decide to pull out if things don’t go their way.
I think the series are stepping up to offer more to entice drivers to run their respective series. Lucas has increased the purses to make all weekend races $12,000-to-win and about $4,000 more to the overall nightly purse. WoO is offering several incentives to attract drivers that we discussed in our most recent Turn 2 Blog. There is a bit of a rivalry between the two series and each offering more is helping perspective drivers.
I also think a number of drivers are looking at what they can earn on the road versus staying closer to home and running mostly regional shows. Only the winner, and maybe the second place driver, is making money off a typical $5,000 to win race. Of course, they aren’t logging the miles to earn more money. It’s a balancing act each team needs to look at.
Richard: You bringing up regional races takes me to my next point. There are only so many competitive Super Late Model drivers around, national or regional. With that said, there are two ways to look at this from the perspective of the regional series and the tracks that play host to those races.
First, taking a number of regional racers out of their respective areas to race on national tours could diminish the pool of cars available to compete in those $5,000-to-win events you mentioned. So at least for the time those local heroes are away, car counts could be impacted for regional Super Late Model race to a small degree.
But second, there is also the possibility that taking those who might normally contend for wins in locally based races might provide others with the possibility of winning a Super Late Model feature. That, in turn, might entice those who might normally race in Crate or Limited Late Model shows to enter Super Late Model races.
No doubt, some of those regional stars may find their way back to their home areas. At the same time, some of those who join up with national tours may stay on those circuits. But either way, there may be at least some impact on other races.
Michael: It’s almost the same as fifteen years ago when more regional series came onto the scene and weekly races for Super Late Models were still a thing in this area. Once more regional series were created, more drivers opted to do that and it slowly killed the weekly Super Late Model racing scene.
The difference between that scenario and the one you’ve mentioned is this. Even 15 years ago, nobody was making money off winning a weekly Super Late Model race. That’s why the regional series’ became such a draw because the purses were bigger and more drivers could come out ahead, or at least break even. Ditching a regional series to run a national series takes a huge investment in both time and money to take on such a feat. Some give it a try and stick with it for a number of years. Some don’t and those are the ones that go back to running regional-type events.
Richard: To change the subject a bit, the second Gateway Nationals in the dome that once served as the home for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams is in the books. And it looks as if the event was once again a success. The car counts in both the Late Model and Modified divisions was good and the competition also appeared to be intriguing.
And like last year, the event was won by one of the sport’s biggest stars as Bobby Pierce grabbed the $30,000 main event on Saturday. And along the lines of what we were just talking about, Pierce exemplifies one of those drivers who will advance from being a regional racer to a national touring regular in 2018 as he joins Dunn Benson Motorsports on the Lucas Oil Series.
This has grown to be one of the most unique shows in all of racing as there are not many times when a race can be held in a place at which there is a guarantee that a race will not have to battle weather predictions and other elements.
But more, the uniqueness of the venue helps to draw attention to dirt racing. Drawing attention is certainly a good thing but it may not have any long lasting impact if the racing isn’t good. However, that has not been the case for this deal in its initial runs. And the fact that two of the most known Dirt Late Model stars(Scott Bloomquist & Bobby Pierce) won the main features certainly doesn’t hurt either, does it?
Michael: Certainly not. While the racing itself may have been short on stars, the biggest names rise to the top when the big money is on the line. And that has been the case the first two years of the event.
Everyone involved has done a great job of putting the race on. The work on getting the track ready and the clean-up afterwards, the promotions, and the show put on for driver introductions certainly enhances the event.
We know racing is a copycat sport. Since there aren’t many domed stadiums that sit idle this time of the year, the risk of a copycat event is slim. That should only help it grow as long as some of those big names continue to show up each year.